The 10 worst property selling mistakes (Part 2)

Beware of “seller’s remorse”!

It’s a real and much-overlooked phenomenon that causes a ton of needless embarrassment and ill feeling to be directed at vendors that underestimate the emotional aspects of selling-up and moving home. Life is unpredictable and personal, health, financial and work circumstances can and often do unexpectedly change. Having to back out of a property deal for one of these reasons is unfortunate and unavoidable but definitely excusable.

However, falling victim to a bout of sellers remorse is avoidable and I’d recommend you protect yourself against it, because having to let solicitors, buyers and estate agents know that you’re sorry to have wasted everyone’s time (& money) but you’ve had a change of heart is needless trauma to have to go through. The key to steering clear of this common affliction is to “mentally move-out” well before the removal men arrive! In fact, the sooner you can disassociate yourself from your current home the better!

Mistake #1 — Not Mentally Preparing Yourself for Moving Out of Your Home

This is no easy task. The emotional bond one forms with a home is extremely strong – stronger than you may imagine. A large “lump in the throat” on moving day is to be expected but it’s the irrational behaviour that grips victims of seller’s remorse during the sales process that really throws a spanner in the works. We’ve seen vendors sabotage their own sale by placing crazy demands on their buyers or by becoming uncooperative towards estate agents and conveyancing solicitors.

These vendors want to move—they need to move—but because they’ve not mentally prepared themselves their subconscious simply won’t let them. You see, there are three jobs critical to the success of any sale but to accomplish them properly, you first need to be 100% committed to selling (and have watertight reasons for doing so).

  • Job #1 – See your home (and all its associated emotional attachment) as a house – a commodity – the profitable sale of which requires a cool business-like approach.
  • Job #2 – Be able to remain realistic about your price and the merits of any offers you receive.
  • Job #3 – Maintain the motivation, energy and critical eye needed to present your house in a way that gives it the best chance of selling (for the highest price, in the shortest time).

Often the emotional side of selling is scoffed at — a “new age” concept dreamt up by self-help gurus. Others just appreciate the issue instinctively.

I don’t know which camp you fall into but whatever your feelings on the matter, everyone benefits from taking a moment to really scrutinise their reasons for moving home. Make certain you’re truly motivated to move and if you find any niggling doubts, consider postponing going to market until you’re 100% committed to your sale. Your stress levels and blood pressure depends on it!

Mistake #2 – Spending too much Renovating Your Property for Sale

When you’re looking for house buyers, it’s only natural to want to find someone that will pay you the maximum price possible. Because of this many house sellers are tempted to believe that fitting a new bathroom suite or kitchen will be a sure way to make a relatively easy and quick last-minute profit.

Unfortunately, the reality for most sellers is that this kind of last-minute dash for profit actually ends up leaving them out of pocket! In most locations, once fitting costs (an often overlooked and substantial sum) are factored-in, most sellers are lucky to re-coup even 90% of their money.

It’s true that a flashy kitchen with designer fittings may help your property sell faster—but what it won’t do is automatically convince buyers that it’s worth forking out a couple of extra grand compared to the identical house for sale down the road. When you’re selling, it’s far more profitable to just present what you have as well as you can.

In other words, unless a room or element (e.g. the carpet) of your property is:

  • deeply unattractive
  • in total disrepair
  • unsanitary

don’t waste your time, money or energy on unprofitable last minute renovations.
Instead, keep in mind that painting, cleaning and refinishing surfaces have always been (and always will be) the easiest, quickest and cheapest ways of increasing the achievable sale price of a property.

Mistake #3 – Not Knowing the True Condition of Your Property

Buyers being able to successfully knock you down on your asking price become possible once problems in the survey are found.

To avoid this unfortunate situation, you need to know the true condition of your property (before you let any buyers through your door). This also helps with achieving a quick house sale because negotiations over the contents of a survey can often drag-on for weeks (if not months). You will have removed this possibility from the equation.

Like most homeowners, I imagine you already have a pretty good idea of the condition your property is in. However, if you’re in any doubt, commissioning a Chartered Surveyor to carry out your own “pre-sale survey” will give you peace of mind.

If the survey raises issues you were unaware of, you can either:

  1. Pay to have the faults fixed before you go to market.
  2. Leave the work for the buyer but get quotes for the work needed. That way you’ll know what a reasonable price reduction is if buyers start playing “hard-ball” with you.

Now before you consider acting on any of this, there’s a “Catch 22” you should be aware of.

It’s estimated that anywhere between 50-80% of buyers don’t bother commissioning a “Homebuyers Survey”. They just rely on the “Valuation Survey” that’s required by their mortgage lender.

Unfortunately for them a “Valuation Survey” tells them nothing about the condition of the roof, electrics, drainage or structure of a property. These are precisely the areas where if something is wrong, it’s going to cost a lot of money to put right.

This means that the unconscientious buyer (the guy looking to cut corners and save a few hundred quid) is in very real risk of buying a “money pit”.

Now, that’s tough luck for them but it does raise the question of whether it’s really worth spending money on your own survey? After all, commissioning a pre-sale survey from a Chartered Surveyor is an expensive business – anywhere from £350 – £1,500 is to be expected (depending on the size and age of your property).

Given the option I’d make sure that I knew the exact condition of any property I was selling. However, I wouldn’t spend any money on getting this information and there is no reason why you should either.

The trick is to invite two or three local builders to come and assess your property with a view to fixing any faults they uncover. Builders have an excellent grasp of the common defects that residential properties suffer from. Most will also give you a detailed quote (for free) on the work needed.

It’s then up to you to decide whether you’ll use the builder to do the work or just use their quote as a negotiating defence against savvy buyers. It may be a little inconvenient to have builders poking around your house of a weekend but it’s certainly preferable to selling your property for less than you rightfully deserve.

Mistake #4 – Buying Before Selling

When you’re thinking of moving house here is a fundamental question you need to ask yourself: “Should you find a new home and then sell or should you sell and then find a new home”?

Neither strategy is risk-free (that’s just the nature of any residential property transactions) but the safest option in the majority of cases is to sell first—I can’t stress that enough! If you set your heart on a new home and have your offer accepted you’d find yourself in a position where you need to rush to sell your current property.

This is a poor situation to be in on 3 counts:

  1. You’ll now be a signed up member of the dreaded “property chain”. The success of your purchase will be reliant on the performance of your buyer, your buyer’s buyer and your buyer’s buyer’s buyer.
  2. Because you’ll be so anxious to sell, your negotiating strength as a seller will be reduced. This is likely to lead to you having to accept the first offer that comes along – it’s probably not going to be the best you could have achieved.
  3. Because you’re in a chain, your negotiating position as a buyer will also be reduced. This makes you a prime target for gazumping as you’ll not be able to move as fast as a chain-free buyer.

Bridging loans are widely available and they’re designed to help you purchase your new home before receiving the cash from your sale however, they can be expensive (and potentially quite risky) financial tools to use. Just imagine the financial strain you’d be under if your house didn’t sell as quickly as you thought it would? You’d be left paying-off two mortgages at the same time!

The safer way to move home is to wait until you’ve a decent offer (from a solid buyer) on your current property. Then start the serious house hunting! This will cut the chance of you falling in love with a property before you’re actually in a position to buy it successfully.

While you’re trying to find a buyer take the time to prepare yourself for the house hunting ahead.

The key word here is “prepare”! Do this right and your house hunting efforts will yield far better results than the “average Joe” that just mooches around estate agents windows hoping to stumble upon the perfect property. Preparing right requires that you engage in some general property market research.

In essence there are 5 questions you need answers to:

  1. Where do you want to move to (down to a shortlist of roads)?
  2. What kind of property are you looking for?
  3. Is that kind of property readily available (i.e. do they often come up for sale)?
  4. Is that kind of property within your price range?
  5. Are you pre-approved for a mortgage?

Alternatively (and I realise that many dislike this idea), the safest thing to so is sell, rent and then buy. The only downside (besides the minor added hassle of organising a rental) is that if it takes a long time to find a new home (say 6-12 months) prices could have moved on to such an extent that your buying power may be reduced.

To avoid this, answering the 5 questions mentioned above is essential because it’s the best way to ensure your house hunting efforts are fast, focused and fruitful.

Mistake #5 – Not Preparing Your House for Sale

Don’t expect the average homebuyers to automatically see the true potential of your property. To sell property fast for the maximum price you need to spoon-feed it to them.

It never ceases to amaze me at just how little imagination or ability to mentally visualise space most buyers have (I don’t mean to cause offence but it’s true) and if you don’t prepare and present your house so that every aspect of it is immediately appealing, you’re setting yourself up to leave money on the table when you sell.

The idea of getting your property in “tip-top condition” shouldn’t necessarily have pound signs flashing before your eyes. It certainly shouldn’t prompt you to feel that buying the Ann Maurice “House Doctor” DVD box set is necessary either. The jobs that will make the biggest positive impact on your sale just require a little elbow grease and a weekend (or two) of your time.

Most sellers wildly underestimate the importance of presentation – if you believe the estate agents’ standard line of “Your house is going to be easy to sell, I’ve at least 5 buyers champing at the bit to buy a house like yours” – you’re going to be taken off guard (and you’ll probably instruct the wrong estate agent for the job). The concept of “presentation for sale” is usually only taken seriously once a property has sat unsold for a few months and the vendor has started to sweat.

Another reason why so many sellers fail to prepare their properties properly is because it’s actually quite difficult to critically assess ones own home.Self-criticism is always hard and if you have a friend you trust (but don’t mind falling out with for a while) then it may be a good idea to invite them round to give you their “no holds barred” opinion of your home. Most vendors that I meet believe that their homes are fantastic (and any buyer who doesn’t immediately fall in love with it is an idiot).

They may be right but this sort of blinkered approach will not get your property sold for the highest possible price. The more “house-proud” you are, the more you need to make a concerted effort to look critically at your property and imagine it through the eyes of the buyer.

As I said before, most sellers simply don’t do this and if you take advantage of this fact you open up the field and gain a substantial advantage in the marketplace.

In essence, when you sell a property you are entering a beauty pageant. As with any competition, winning does not happen by accident. Winning (i.e. selling profitably within your required timeframe) requires careful preparation. Put in the effort and you’ll have the pick of the buyers (and the best offers)! So, what do you need to do to have a competition winning property?

Essentially there are 8 things:

  1. Clean your house from top to bottom, inside and out.
  2. De-clutter the property and throw out as much stuff as possible (or hire some short-term storage space).
  3. Finish any DIY projects and routine maintenance issues.
  4. Clean the outside of your house (windows, boundaries, doors, roof tiles) to make the best possible first impression.
  5. Try to make the inside of your house anonymous (i.e. de-personalise the place).
  6. Re-paint your interior in a neutral colour (it’s a cliché but it works every time).
  7. Define the use of each room.
  8. Make sure your house smells fresh.

Tackling these 8 steps is how you realise the maximum potential for the least amount of money. Invest a little time and energy and your property will pay you back by selling fast and possibly even achieving an enhanced price.


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